Cell Phones & Smartphones

Government Refusing To Say Whether Phone Tracking Evidence Came From Mass Surveillance

Government Refusing To Say Whether Phone Tracking Evidence Came From Mass Surveillance

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 8:36am
In criminal cases, defendants have a right to know what evidence the government plans to use against them and how the government gathered that evidence. This basic due process principle is essential: it allows defendants to test in court whether law enforcement officers obtained evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment. But in a new legal brief, the government has refused to confirm or deny whether it relied on constitutionally questionable mass surveillance programs to gather evidence for a criminal prosecution.
Fighting a Striking Case of Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

Fighting a Striking Case of Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 4:16pm

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering a case that could be pivotal in determining whether the government needs a warrant to track your cell phone. Today the ACLU, together with the ACLU of Maryland, Center for Democracy &…

New Results From Our Nationwide Cell Phone Tracking Records Requests

New Results From Our Nationwide Cell Phone Tracking Records Requests

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 2:04pm

It’s been over a year since 35 ACLU affiliates filed over 380 public records requests with state and local law enforcement agencies seeking information about their policies, procedures, and practices for tracking cell phones. And 13 months later…

In Court Today: Challenging DOJ Secrecy on Use of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

In Court Today: Challenging DOJ Secrecy on Use of Warrantless Cell Phone Location Tracking

By Bennett Stein, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 10:47am

Way back in 2007, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking information about how and when the government obtains cell phone location data without a warrant. Since then, we have learned that the practice of using cell phones as tracking…

State High Courts Realize It's Not 1986 Anymore, Broaden Privacy Protections

State High Courts Realize It's Not 1986 Anymore, Broaden Privacy Protections

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 10:57am

This was posted to privacysos.org.

Technology in the digital age has changed the way the government conducts surveillance against targets, and the law must change accordingly. So ruled two separate state supreme courts in decisions that take…

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:11am

Top government officials have been defending the NSA’s secret collection of phone records of every American. But the argument they are using today to justify mass surveillance of phone calls could be used to justify ANY amount of intrusion into Americans’ private lives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if it were discovered that the NSA had placed a secret microphone and video camera in the living room and bedroom of every home in America. It’s easy to predict how the government would defend that kind of spying. Here is what they would probably say:

  • The audio and video data collected from Americans’ homes do not constitute “surveillance” because nobody watches or listens to the recordings, unless they obtain a warrant. Actually, not a real warrant, or even a subpoena, but permission through an internal NSA process based on—trust us!—very, very strict criteria. Or in a small number of other very exceptional circumstances.
  • The program has been approved by the chairs of the major congressional intelligence committees, as well as the secret FISA Court.
  • While it’s true that even the sweepingly broad Patriot Act requires that data be “relevant” to an investigation, there has never been a requirement that every piece of data in a dataset that is turned over be relevant, only that the data set be generally relevant . When it comes to the mass of data that we are collecting from people’s homes, we know there is relevant information in there, and if we don’t preserve that data, we won’t be able to find it when we need it.
  • At least 50 acts of terrorism-like crimes have been prevented. We can’t release details of these successes, but they include several people caught building bomb-like objects in their kitchens, two instances in which women who were kidnapped years ago were found being kept prisoner within private homes, and numerous instances of domestic violence.

All of the arguments above are essentially what the NSA’s current defenders have been saying. My point is that there are few limits to the spying that their arguments could be used to justify.

The idea of the NSA secretly visiting every home in America to hide audio and video bugs inside may seem far-fetched, but what they have actually done is not quite as different as it might seem. It was not long ago that in order for the government to collect telephone metadata (all telephone numbers called and received), the authorities had to attach telephone bugs known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices to a home’s physical telephone line. Today it no longer needs to do that, but its mass collection of telephone metadata accomplishes the same end through virtual means, and just because the technology makes it possible to carry out such spying through the reshuffling of digital files at telephone central offices, doesn’t mean it’s any less intrusive than if the NSA were to physically attach a bug on the telephone wires outside every home.

Results of Nationwide Government Cell Phone Tracking Records Request Show Frequent Violations of Americans' Privacy Rights

Results of Nationwide Government Cell Phone Tracking Records Request Show Frequent Violations of Americans' Privacy Rights

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 1:17pm

The ACLU has released the results of our public records requests to hundreds of police departments asking about their cell phone tracking policies. What we have learned is disturbing.

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:15am

Montana just made history. It recently enacted the first state law in the nation (sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings)) requiring...

Civil Liberties in the Digital Age: Weekly Highlights (5/18/2012)

Civil Liberties in the Digital Age: Weekly Highlights (5/18/2012)

By Anna Salem, ACLU of Northern California at 3:03pm
In the digital age that we live in today, we are constantly exposing our personal information online. From using cell phones and GPS devices to online shopping and sending e-mail, the things we do and say online leave behind ever-growing trails of personal…

Cell Phone Censorship in San Francisco?

By Rebecca Farmer, ACLU of Northern California at 5:15pm

Pop quiz: where did a government agency shut down cell service yesterday to disrupt a political protest? Syria? London? Nope. San Francisco.

The answer may seem surprising, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday evening. The …

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